The 12th release in the ongoing Punk Goes... series from Fearless Records, Punk Goes Pop 4 once again brings together a bunch of today's newer and hotter post-hardcore, metalcore, screamo and electronic outfits and has them record covers of tracks by some of today's biggest pop stars. And once again, aside from a few gems that only sparkle by comparison, I find myself asking why.
Seriously. Why would you do something like this?
The punk cover is something that is a longstanding fun tradition. Many punk bands have a few covers in their repertoire, reserved for the occasional encore at a live show or slipped onto a release or as a B-side to a 7". Some bands, like Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, have built their name out of well-crafted covers. And quite often the songs are legendary. The Clash playing "I Fought the Law" (Listen/Download)? The Dead Kennedys doing "Viva Las Vegas" (Listen/Download)? Sid Vicious' versions of "Wy Way" (Listen/Download) and Somethin' Else" (Listen/Download)? These are legendary tracks, often better known than the originals. But when you take bands like Silverstein, Pierce The Veil or A Skylit Drive and have them cover songs by Ke$ha, Chris Brown or Kanye West, it really only serves to point out how thin the barriers between this collection of "punk" bands and their "pop" counterparts truly are.
The album opens with Pierce The Veil's cover of "Just the Way You Are" by Bruno Mars (Listen/Download), and if nothing else, it sets the tone for the album. It's a well-crafted pop punk tune, with extra emphasis on the pop. It's solid and well-produced, but do we really need another solid well-produced majestic cover of another well-produced pop song? Only to point out that Pierce the Veil is a pretty pop outfit, even if they try to get heavy sometimes - but not so heavy that they scare off the 13-year-old girls that make up their fanbase.
It's the sort of thing that happens over and over again throughout the comp. I See Stars does a great job of pointing out that they and Britney Spears aren't really that different with their cover of "Till The World Ends" (Listen/Download) as does Allstar Weekend on Chris Brown's "Yeah 3X" (Listen/Download) Really, I'd think in order to enforce what little punk cred these bands may have generated by getting themselves full-color spreads in Alternative Press, they'd want to create a physical distance between themselves and their more pop-honest counterparts.
And when For All Those Sleeping takes on Taylor Swift's "You Belong With Me" (Listen/Download)? Honestly, adding some screamo choruses on top of a pop cover doesn't make it punk - it only points out that screamo is just another branch of noise catering to a fanbase of teenagers with cash, creating the soundtrack for the quasi-rebellious suburban kid to play on his way to the mall to hang out with friends in front of the Hot Topic.
Perhaps the biggest atrocity, though, is Sleeping With Sirens assault on Cee Lo Green's "F**k You" (Listen/Download). They stripped what is actually a really good pop song of all that made it appealing, it's sense of humor, Motown-influenced sound and punk attitude, and irreverently watered it down to pablum. If you want to hear a proper cover of this song, handled with the right attitude and sense of humor, check out Kid Liberty's take on the song on their Give Up. Give In EP.
The album does exhibit a few diamonds, like Tonight Alive's version of "Little Lion Man," originally by Mumford & Sons (Listen/Download), with some stellar guitarwork and Jenna McDougall's powerful vocals, but by the time that song builds to the first big chorus, it's once again evolved into an over-produced pop song, and Tonight Alive has become another Paramore or Katy Perry clone. And speaking of Katy Perry, she appears on this record, or her song does, courtesy of Woe, Is Me's cover of "Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F)" (Listen/Download) which, despite it's metallic assault on the original version, ends up bleeding out as just another polished pop tune, albeit with a fun electronic foundation. These "diamonds" are all too rare, and only stand out in comparison to the other tracks. Anywhere else in the music world, they'd be pretty mediocre. Once again, they exhibit too much polish, and rather than polished diamonds, any song choice in the Punk Goes... series should be displaying its diamonds in the rough.
While so many punk bands embrace a poppy sound, it's entirely different from storming headlong into mass-market pop. Many punk bands are unapologetically pop, but still undeniably punk. Those bands that I'm talking about? They don't appear on this record. This record is occupied by piles of the bands that are willing to assume a punk moniker to sell records for the sake of selling records and getting their photos cut from the magazines to be hung inside high school lockers. And while there's really nothing wrong with trying to sell records for it's own sake - the Sex Pistols, the swindle and all that, the real crime is in the false pretense of this compilation's title. Maybe they should call the next release in the series Disposable Pop Bands Barely Masquerading as Punk Bands Goes Even More Pop. I might give it a little more respect then. At least that title would be honest.
Release Date - November 22, 2011